IGN Review of Medal of Honor: Vanguard
If you're in the habit of comparing Nintendo's new console to PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 then you are fully aware of its strengths and weaknesses. The unit is roughly twice as powerful as GameCube, which is significant when you consider that the Big N's previous system played gorgeous titles like Resident Evil 4. But that said, where sheer horsepower is concerned, Wii is just not in the same league as the high-definition-ready platforms, and that's one of its drawbacks. Its undeniable strength and its major selling point lies with its innovative new controller. The Wii remote yields a level of speed and precision very rare, if not impossible with a dual-analog configuration - a truth never more evident than in the first-person shooter genre. Although early in the life cycle of Nintendo's system, titles like Metroid Prime 3 are dishing out Wii remote-enhanced controls that rival the responsiveness of a PC and keyboard setup. Even one of Wii's launch efforts, Call of Duty 3, featured quick and accurate controls - a preview, undoubtedly, of greater things to come. The problem with Activision's title wasn't control, but production values. It looked like a PlayStation 2 title and not a Wii one.
Now comes Medal of Honor Vanguard from Electronic Arts. The wartime first-person shooter ups the visual presentation over Call of Duty 3. Vanguard is simply prettier in almost every respect, from art to engineering. But - and here's the kicker -- it doesn't play as well; the overall controls aren't as tight. The end experience remains entirely playable - enjoyable during most missions, especially during sniper-intensive situations -- but it's not the Holy Grail of first-person shooters. So you will be forced to make a choice: prettier graphics or smoother controls? And frankly, this isn't a choice that any gamer should consider.
Vanguard marks the first Medal of Honor title for Nintendo's new system and the second wartime shooter after the aforementioned Call of Duty 3. From the start, the production values are impressive, as the game spits out catchy, pristine music to battlefield montages leading into real-time cut-scenes. Oftentimes, in-game cinematics on Wii lack chorography and detail, especially when the game in question is developed across multiple systems. Publishers have a disappointing tendency to lump Wii in with dated systems like PlayStation 2, and therefore the Nintendo version of the games share the same assets and ultimately look identical. This is largely true of Vanguard, but even the base production values are well done and that carries over to the Wii version.
The shooter begins with a bang - literally, we suppose. You're Corporal Frank Keegan, an integral member of the 82n Airborne Division. You're about to have a bad day. An atmospheric opening sequence sets up the action to follow, as Keegan and crew are blown out of the sky over Europe before they can properly parachute to the battlefield below. Only in the nick of time is Keegan able to open his chute and glide to safety during a fully interactive and refreshingly original sequence where, using the Wii remote and nunchuk, you can actually direct his speed and angle. It's over too quickly, but thankfully there are more paratrooper segments paced throughout the game.
Vanguard is the same game across PS2 and Wii minus a few graphic upgrades, and thus the biggest differences sit with the new remote-enhanced controls. We can safely state that the Wii remote does actually improve the experience over a dual-analog option, but EA hasn't nailed it. The configuration is typical, meaning that you control Keegan with the nunchuk's analog stick and aim with the Wii remote. That's how it should be since the pointer enables a greater level of accuracy and speed than any stick realistically could. The controls are responsive enough and that's really the best way to describe. They aren't great and neither are they poor. They feel looser than Call of Duty 3, which is unfortunate since Vanguard has arrived after, not before. That being true, the turn rate sensitivity is customizable - a welcomed addition that helps, but doesn't entirely address the looseness.
To its credit, though, EA has implemented some control features that feel intuitive. When you aren't directly moving Keegan, but are instead aiming his weapon, Vanguard is the better game. We're referring to the title's sights mode - scoped-in gunplay, in other words. There's a lot of it, it looks good and it feels good. The process of aiming is a little slower and a little smoother when you're sighted on an enemy and Vanguard employs a brilliant analog lean function that every FPS should copy. You can peek around corners or objects with a degree of precision formerly unattainable and you'll find yourself doing it whether you're in the middle of a gun fight or just trying to see what lies ahead. EA has also more satisfyingly mapped grenade tossing to the Wii remote than Call of Duty 3 did. Activision's game sloppily assigned the function to the nunchuk. In Vanguard, you select grenades with the D-Pad, aim at the on-screen area you want to throw the explosive at, and then hold the B-trigger, which locks the target in place; from here, you simply make a tossing gesture with the Wii remote and off your grenade goes. A flick to the left with the nunchuk executes a quick 180 turn, which is especially useful during intense battles. And you can sprint by holding up on the D-Pad. All of the above works without flaw, in our experience. That noted, you do occasionally stab forward with the Wii remote to perform a melee attack and, as in every other FPS that utilizes a forward stabbing gesture, it is imprecise and frustrating more than entertaining.
With four major missions spanning some 10 levels, ranging from Sicily to Germany, and a variety of day and night battle scenarios, the overall stage selection is adequate. Vanguard doesn't let you commandeer vehicles, which is disappointing because we've come to expect and anticipate the option from most wartime shooters. However, you can man sentry guns to pick off hordes of enemies at a jump and the title does include those paratrooper mission beginnings, which are always fun, if short. One gripe, though, is that the first few missions seem to be on the easy side, just as the final one ramps up the difficulty by a significant margin. We'd have preferred a more balanced progression through the European tour.
Medal of Honor is not exactly a visual stunner, but it does make Call of Duty 3 for Wii look like a previous generation effort by comparison. The title boasts more varied environments complete with vivid colors and rich backdrops, its particle effects engine is more robust and its lighting effects are in another universe completely. When you're in a darkened hallway and you fire off your gun, the muzzle fire will illuminate not only the surrounding area in quick bursts of light, but also soldiers around you, too. It's a very moody undertaking that beautifully complements the action. Meanwhile, the environments themselves are skinned in more detailed textures, lessening the smear effect so commonly seen when characters are structures are viewed up close. The downside to all of this visual clarity is that Vanguard generally runs at a worse framerate than Call of Duty 3, which moved along smoothly for the most part. The game does, however, support both 16: 9 widescreen and 480 progressive-scan modes.
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